‘There’s no ‘i’ in narrator. There’s also no ‘i’ in narrate. There’s technically an ‘i’ in narration, and two in omniscient, but we’ll ignore that for now. What’s important for you to know before we start this story is that this story belongs to you, not to me. Enjoy your time here and welcome to the School of Omniscience.’ – Copyright, ‘School Of Omniscience’, written by a younger me.
Omniscient narrators: the most powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Due to their position of power, their knowledge of everything that happens in the book and their almost god-like presence they have the power to persuade your readers that everything you say is true. Everything they say is a fact. Everything they say is important to the story that they’re telling. Or at least that’s the trust and belief that your readers will give to them. Sometimes, as in the case of ‘The Hobbit’ by Tolkien, the omniscient feels somewhat untrustworthy, helping to add a feeling of un-ease to your reader. Whether you find his attempt successful or not, it’s using your omniscient to its full capabilities.
It’s obvious how important I think an omniscient is. When I was nineteen/twenty I started writing a novel which would help people in creating their own, quoted above. When asked what I find to be the most important part of writing a novel (during writers groups, retreats or university) I would always answer ‘the narrator’. However, I didn’t ever put characters as a secondary importance as I believe, and I think at this point it’s going to be hard to dissuade me from this, that narrators are a form of character themselves. Even if they’re not a first person POV (point of view, if you’re new to this), they still have some from of personality or views that control how they tell the story.
So instead of the usual, instead of thinking of an omniscient narrator as merely a god-like being, I want you to imagine them as an Ancient-Greek-God-Like being. What’s the difference? Okay—comparison. A Christian God, which is closer to what people believe when they think God-like being, is barely known. They’re perfect, untouched and a benevolent figure we can’t even try to comprehend. A Greek God? Think Zeus. We know his entire story. We know how many women he raped, how much he was adored as a boy, that his father ate his siblings, that he was raised by a goat. He’s hardly a mysterious figure but the Ancient Greeks still looked at him as a God. This is what you’re omniscient should be. They should be flawed, overjoyed about some things and miserable about others; like Zeus and his favourites (mainly women from everything I’ve read), your omniscient will have favourite characters (just as you’ll probably have yourself); your omniscient will have lived a full life, they’ll be a real person… and that is how you gain a reader’s interest.
So, if this is that important, how do you go about it? Well, take it back to my first blog post. Design a character. Create a personality. Operate with the iceberg theory. Realise their motivations, their favourites. If it happens to tie in with your own, that’s fine, go for it. Nobody’s really going to know any difference, as long as it feels like a real person is telling the story. If you want to bring up politics, then do so. As long as your narrator has a consistent interest in politics, then it’s fine.
My narrator’s name is Hattie. I know what she wears (tatty brown trousers with an even tattier brown top and a large white sun hat—with a piece of cloth dripping down her back to protect her neck); I know her favourite things in life (family, friends, time travel, her pet); I even know the people around her somewhat intimately (it helps that she’s also a character in one of my stories—but why shouldn’t she be? I know her intimately and with her storyline it makes sense that she could be an omniscient).
Let your imagination run wild. Create an entire character for yourself, get to know them intimately and when you eventually find your voice you’re on your way to a great book/poem/short story/play.
- Omniscient narrators are characters in their own right.
- Remember, an omniscient is a god-like being who knows everything that happens.
- Also remember that you can play with the trustworthiness of an omniscient like you can a character. If you want to put people at unease use your omniscient.
- Take time to find your narrator voice. Every omniscient is different, opinionated and sits in a certain time period. Think political comments from Dickens, Hugo etc. Jane Austen’s omniscient is sarcastic, seething etc.
- An Omniscient can get away with a lot more than a first person. They not only see more but can state things as fact, making your reader believe what they’re saying (this is why historical fiction is complicated to write—if you are wrong, uninformed people on the time can be persuaded that it’s correct—don’t spread false information).
- My Omniscient is Hattie. Just as I would a character I gave her a whole backstory so that I knew her inside and out.
Still struggling? Try using this prompt to better understand omniscient narrators and their roles:
Describe the Voice
Below are quotes from famous novels etc. One at a time, take a quote and make a list of the qualities you think this voice has as a character.
For example, ‘A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise’, by A. A. Milne: factual, grown-up but with childish imagination/speaking, funny, a father, slow speaker, fairly musical, relaxed/relaxing, calm.
‘Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t. I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you’—Dr. Seuss
‘I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties, there isn’t any privacy’—F. Scott Fitzgerald
‘I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am’—Sylvia Plath
‘Get busy living or get busy dying’—Stephen King
‘He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same’—Emily Bronte
‘There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights’—Bram Stroker
‘The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid’—Jane Austen
Try doing this with other books you read and your own writing. Even a narrator, omniscient or first person, has a character and the more you know your narrator the easier it will be to keep your voice natural and well-defined.